July 2021 Feature Release – The North Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The North has been nominated by Ben. It's 2003's "Reclaim" E.P. from Norwegian melodic black metal outfit Keep Of Kalessin. I've had mixed experiences with Keep Of Kalessin over the years however I'm gonna trust Ben's judgement on this one & will go in expecting something pretty special (or at least something brutal as fuck which is fine with me too).
I know little of Keep of Kalessin and haven't heard much of their output, so I can't impart any great insight to this release I'm afraid. I do know that this EP features vocals from sometime Mayhem & Sunn O))) vocalist Attila Csihar, so at least that side of things should be in good hands and indeed Attila is in fine form, his trademark croaking bark sounding as menacing as ever. Drum duties are handled by black metal veteran Frost of Satyricon and 1349 fame, so again no worries on that front. The mainman of KoK, Obsidian Claw, is responsible for guitar, bass and keys, along with the songwriting duties and isn't found to be wanting in the presence of such black metal royalty as his two guest musicians.
The EP features five tracks and clocks in just short of half an hour which I think is a nice length for a black metal release. The production is incredibly clean and the band sounds great, the guitars are meaty-sounding, not at all the thinly produced, treble-heavy lo-fi sound of many black metal releases. The tracks are intense, yet melodic, busy, but focussed and exceptionally memorable, Come Damnation, for instance, is a great example of a black metal tune that will stick in the listener's head all day, yet is still aggressive and menacing in it's delivery. There's even a point halfway through IX when the band go full-on Finntroll on us and turn in a black metal polka moment.
I don't know how much Attila and Frost's presence have elevated the material on this, their sole appearance with the band I believe, so I can't speak to how this compares to KoK's other work, but on the strength of this I guess I'd better find out. Another nice choice Ben and another band for me to explore further. 4/5.
003’s EP from Keep of Kalessin saw a completely different line up to their previous outing. Having parted ways with their drummer, bassist and vocalist. I do not know whether this split was acrimonious or otherwise, although it is certainly off to find 3 core members of a band decide they have had enough after two full lengths. Anyway, remaining member Obsidian Claw clearly had friends in high places, recruiting black metal royalty Frost (Satyricon) and Attila (Mayhem, Tormentor,etc…) for Reclaim.
I mean, with such acclaimed individuals present on the EP it is hard to expect much of anything other than superb black metal really and in some ways, you get that. I wouldn’t say that Reclaim is outstanding by any means, certainly not when you take into account who was involved. But it is still a solid blast of bm when it stops fucking around with synths and soaring/uplifting riffs that feel a bit out of place in what for the main part is a blasting bm record. I understand that the band nowadays are more noted for their melodic black metal and this shows clear signs of presence here.
Obsidian Claw handles both bass and guitar duties and keeps up well with Frost who blasts away like a machine behind the kit. Showing deft use of tremolo riffing the guitars lead the charge on this EP with the drums very much providing the thundering hooves. Attila’s grim vocals are low in the mix, creepy and nightmarish as always for the main part but able to develop into trademark howls when the tempo dictates the need to.
When in full flow, the sound has an aspect of suffocating darkness to it building to what I personally find to be a very reassuring sense of momentum across the tracks that are devoid of atmospheric interruptions. The fact that we have a bm supergroup essentially delivering this record means we are starting with high expectations, and it is perhaps these that are not realised for me during Reclaim. There is an obvious thirst to produce something special, but it still sounds a lot like the good parts of Satyricon mixed with the macabre majesty of Mayhem thrown in. When the band try to vary things and make things a little different it seems to conflict with the very ethos they are trying to create. I can happily lose the melodic leads and the variety in structure that seems to disrupt the overall flow of the release as when the guys are at it they are fine just letting it all hang out.
For a short release I was not expecting the band to form much of an identity but it sort of feels like some mates got together and had a jam session that turned into some song writing and this EP came out of the other end. The session is not bad by any means but there is more than a hint of jumbled ideas in play here and the EP (for me) suffers for it.
Ok, so it doesn't take a genius to be able to figure out that this little E.P. was always going to be something that I'd enjoy given its unquestionable pedigree & consistent use of well executed & undeniably brutal blast-beats. I've had a rocky relationship with Norway's Keep Of Kalessin over the years with albums like 2010's "Reptilian" doing very little for me but "Reclaim" is likely the best material I've heard from them. Admittedly a lot of that appeal comes from the two monumental figures that Obsidian C. has drafted into the fold which was obviously an excellent move, particularly in relation to Frost who is clearly the major drawcard. I'm a total sucker for full-on extreme drumming displays like he contributes here & this component alone pretty much secures a more than decent rating from me as long as the rest of the group don't fuck things up too badly & there's no hint of that. Sadly though, I do agree with Vinny that there is still a fair amount of unfulfilled potential here.
Despite the general tendency to tag this release as Melodic Black Metal, I'd argue that the conventional Black Metal tag is a little more appropriate. Obsidian's guitar work certainly keeps a foot on more melodic ground however it also has an undeniably thrashy quality to it & possesses the sort of dark grandeur that the Norwegians have built their reputations on over several decades now. I agree that the guitar solos are largely unnecessary as they really do go against everything that Norwegian black metal stands for but they don't completely kill the atmosphere so I can overlook them. Attila's vocals are as varied & unhinged as you would expect however I wouldn't say that they get under my skin as much as they have on his most celebrated releases. He simply delivers on his part of the deal. No more, no less. There are moments when he reminds you of how transcendent he can be at his very best however these are more the exception than the rule. But it's Frost that steals the show with a fine array of extreme drumming that thankfully manages to elevate some of the less successful riff concepts to acceptable levels.
Pretty much every track starts out in fine blasting form & my blood stays pumping for the vast majority of the tracklisting however I'd suggest that ALL of these pieces drop the ball a little bit at some point. Some of those weaker moments are due to a few overly ambitious rhythmic structures in some of the riffs with Frost doing his level best to hold everything together while others are triggered by some of the more thrash-oriented beats which lighten the mood up a little more than I'd like & it's only the majestic "Come Damnation" that manages to overcome it's failings to reach a truly elite result. I guess some of this material just seems a touch underdone, like the tracks haven't been given quite enough time to develop & the band have rushed the whole process in order to get a product out. The E.P. format of the release would support that theory too I would think. Don't get me wrong, this is some fine blasting black metal that's right up my alley. It's just that I get the impression that it could have been truly great if it was given a little more attention to detail. As it is though, "Reclaim" is still an excellent example of the genre from some of the best in the business.
For fans of Immortal, Dark Funeral & 1349.
Massive fan of this one and I'm not quite getting the "untapped potential" aspect that Daniel/Vinny are describing even though I can see where they're coming from. I haven't listened to any Attila outside of Mayhem so it might be hard for me to tell whether he's phoning it in or not, but I never thought I'd consider myself a fan of his vocal style outside of De mysteriis dom Sathanas. His strange croaks work really well with the more extreme edge this album has with its insanely fast drumming and more thrashy style of tremolo riffing that balances melody and aggression really well. I'm also inclined to agree with Daniel in that there isn't too much Melodic Black Metal here apart from having a few more riff transitions than normal in tracks like "Come Damnation". I think this album works so well for me because it's an EP and not a full-length, since I could see myself getting tired of the relentless and somewhat repetitive aggression past the 40-minute mark. All in all though this release is exactly what I want and expect from a star lineup of Black Metal musicians and I thoroughly enjoy every single song on this album, although "Obliterator" is where I can start to understand Vinny's "jumbled ideas" comment since it definitely lags behind the 3 other full songs on the album. "Come Damnation" is probably the best Black Metal track I've heard in months though, so it's a small price to pay.